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A small catfish swimming above rocky substrate.
Information icon Carolina madtom. Photo by D Biggins, former USFWS.

Service reopens comment period on proposal to list at-risk North Carolina salamander and catfish species

Public comment sought on changes to proposed critical habitat and proposed changes to 4(d) rule the Neuse River waterdog; Carolina madtom proposal remains unchanged

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is reopening the public comment period on a combined proposal to list the Neuse River waterdog salamander and the Carolina madtom catfish in North Carolina under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In May 2019, the Service proposed listing the Carolina madtom as endangered and the Neuse River waterdog as threatened following a rigorous scientific review. Critical habitat was also proposed for both species.

Based on additional scientific information received on these proposed actions, the Service is initiating a new 30-day public comment period on these changes beginning Thursday, July 30, 2020 and ending Monday, August 31, 2020.

The waterdog and the madtom can only be found in streams that flow into the Tar and Neuse rivers of North Carolina. These river-dwelling animals are part of the state’s rich biological heritage and are important indicator species for clean water and healthy streams. The waterdog and the madtom have lost more than half of their historical ranges. Remaining populations are unhealthy and are at risk of extinction.

An elongated salamander in a small tupperware filled with water on a ruler for measurement.
Adult Neuse River waterdog displaying some of the features that distinguish the species: external bushy red gills, dark spots throughout it’s reddish-brown skin, and a long paddle-like tail. Photo by NCWRC.

When the Service first proposed to protect the Carolina madtom and the Neuse River waterdog it proposed to designate about 738 river miles as critical habitat for the waterdog. The Service is now proposing to extend the size of four of these previously proposed units and create two new units for a total increase of 41 river miles, bringing the proposed critical habitat for the waterdog to 779 river miles. The Service is not changing the proposed critical habitat for the Carolina madtom.

The ESA requires the Service to identify the location of areas essential to the conservation of endangered or threatened species, defined as critical habitat. Designating critical habitat under the ESA does not affect private landowners taking action on their land unless the action involves federal funds, permits or activities. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area, nor does it allow the government or public to access private lands.

The Service is also proposing changes to the language that describes protections for the waterdog under section 4(d) of the ESA. The new language describes more clearly the activities that are allowed as exceptions to prohibition from some ESA restrictions, such as allowing for surveys and relocations of waterdogs prior to restoration and adding the use of appropriate native vegetation for bank stabilization. Also, forest management that complies with state approved Best Management Practices (BMPs) is described in greater detail. Section 4(d) of the ESA allows incidental take resulting from certain types of work that are beneficial to the salamander and its habitat.

“The Service is adjusting our proposal for these species based on a commitment to using the best and most up-to-date science in our ESA actions,” said Pete Benjamin, field supervisor for the Raleigh Field Office. “Reopening the comment period will help ensure the public has the opportunity to provide their input as part of our transparent and comprehensive process.”

Copies of the revised proposed rule and associated documents, along with directions on how to submit comments and information are available at regulations.gov using docket No. FWS–R4-ES-2018-0092. All comments will be posted online. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339.

For more information, visit the species profiles for the Carolina madtom and the Neuse River waterdog.

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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